New normal
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - June 13, 2020 - 12:00am

About two weeks ago, my dad had to be confined at a hospital in Quezon City. To prevent the hospital bill from ballooning, and to avoid going out of the house unless absolutely necessary, we made daily online transfers to the hospital’s bank account.

Imagine our surprise when one day, we couldn’t make any bank transfers for the entire day. I called the bank’s customer service number which, unfortunately, was busy. Finally, after several attempts, the bank answered my call and explained that InstaPay was down and was encountering problems due to the huge volume of online transactions.

InstaPay is an electronic fund transfer service under the oversight of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas that allows customers to transfer Philippine funds almost instantly between accounts of participating BSP-supervised banks and non-bank e-money issuers in the country.

Formed under the framework of the National Retail Payment System approved by the Monetary Board in 2015 and adopted in 2017, Instapay is a priority automated clearing system that aims to bring about a safe, efficient, affordable and reliable retail payment in the country specifically for real-time, low value electronic fund transfer transactions, the BSP said. Ideally, customers can transfer up to P50,000 per transaction as many times during the day but the bank or non-bank e-money issuer may impose a daily limit on the aggregate amount which a customer may transact in a day. And then also, customers need to access their bank’s or e-money issuer’s mobile app or internet banking facility to send funds via InstaPay.

Because many bank branches were still closed prior to the general community quarantine effective June 1, and because many customers want a safe (COVID-19 free) means of making payments, InstaPay as well as other electronic fund transfer service mechanisms became a huge hit.

In a recently released report, Colliers Philippines said it expects the value of InstaPay transactions to rise further as much of the population embraces online payments.

Colliers cited in its report data from the Philippine Payments Management Inc. (PPMI) which showed that e-payment transactions during the lockdown, covering the period of April 2020, reached a total value of P53 billion ($1 billion) or an average of P6,130 ($120) per transaction. In April, some 8.9 million InstaPay transfers were recorded, up by 32.2 percent from 6.7 million transactions in March, indicating the growth of online shopping during the period, Colliers said.

In another media report, it was revealed that e-payment transactions coursed through the automated clearing houses of the BSP National Retail Payments System surged to P191.91 billion as of April.

Transactions made through InstaPay reached P49.5 billion as of April, more than twice the transaction value posted when the platform began in April 2018.

Meanwhile, PESONet transactions were valued at P176.26 billion, more than thrice the P52.76 billion transactions posted when PESONet was launched in November 2017. PESONet is designed for high-value transactions of companies, businesses, government agencies and individuals.

InstaPay is offered by 45 financial institutions while PESONet is offered by 56 financial institutions as key services for their account holders as of March 31, the news report revealed. InstaPay was launched by the BSP in April 2018 in line with its goal of increasing the volume of digital payment transactions to 20 percent of total payment transactions this year, and the value to account for 30 percent of the total.

According to PPMI general manager Carmelita Araneta, before the ECQ, fund transfers through InstaPay grew by only about 10 percent a month in February and March.

Daily transactions only averaged 200,158 from January 1 to March 16, but increased to 263,588 from March 17 to April 30.

PPMI is the payment system management body designed by the BSP and formed by the payments industry to promote e-payments under the BSP’s National Retail Payments System Framework.

For his part, PPMI president Abraham Co said he sees this trend to continue as long as the risk of COVID-19 persists.

Earlier, BSP Governor Ben Diokno urged Filipinos to use e-payment services such as PESONet and InstaPay when purchasing essentials like food and medicines, when transferring money to accounts of loved ones, and when paying utility bills, loans and other obligations.

As a consequence of increased digital payment transactions, both check payments and ATM withdrawals declined. While before the ECQ the value of daily check transactions surpassed P150 billion, this only averaged to about P50-P75 billion from March 17 to April 2.

Before I end this piece, allow me to thank all the men and women of De Los Santos Medical Center, which recently celebrated its 7th anniversary as a member of Metro Pacific Hospital Holdings Inc., who made my dad’s hospital stay (for non COVID-19 related reasons) less stressful given the mobility restrictions. To the staff at the credit and collections department (Chin and Donna) who had to bear with me for constantly following up on my bank transfer clearings, Dina of the wellness center, to our attending physician and my kababayan Dr Mario Adraneda, our surgeon Dr. Robert Chang, our oncologist Dra Romares, to the other doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and most especially to DLSMC president Raul Pagdanganan and business development and strategic partnership group senior manager Carmen Soriano for always being there.

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